Museums and masks

Today we’re on a schedule, but in true holiday style it’s pretty loose and relaxed. Alarm is at seven, but the dawn peeping through the shades wakes us up sooner. Hotels are not allowed to serve food inside, only on terraces, and that’s not very handy for breakfast this early in the year, so we pick up a breakfast bag in the lobby and eat in the room. We head south to Tongeren for our first appointment, the GPS elects to send us over small, local roads and it’s slow but picturesque. We see a lot of pastures, fruit orchards and large, old farms.

Tongeren is a small town, I first notice this when we look for a place to park the car and see that it has only one underground parking garage. If you’re wondering why it’s necessary to use a garage, you might not be used to European towns: most are old, so they have narrow roads with a distinct lack of parking options on street level. We put on our mouth masks at the car – they’re mandatory in the whole town – and arrive at the museum just in time for our slot.

First we visit the temporary exhibition, which has pieces from the British Museum and wants to show what it was like to live in Roman times. We leave our jackets in a locker, get an audio guide and start the route. There’s not many people as such, but they’re old and slow and in the way. I give up on the audio guide pretty quickly, it’s well done but the speed is just glacial. I must admit I’m a bit disappointed: a lot of the background information is already known to me, the human interest angle was never my favorite and I’ve seen similar objects in other museums during trips to the UK and Rome. I conclude that I’m too spoiled for this exhibition for beginners and we pick up the speed a bit.

The roman empire in the 2nd C A.D., Tongeren is at the north edge on mainland

At 11:30 we have our slot for the permanent exhibition, it’s much quieter there and we can move at our own speed without bumping into seniors. The exhibition chronicles the conquest of Europe by humans, from the very start to the end of the Roman occupation. It’s enlivened by a few life like diorama’s and a mass of objects found in this region, from really, really old flint scrapers to ancient ceramics of different prehistoric ages and objects from the times of Roman occupation. It’s interesting to follow this time line over the three floors – it’s literally a line on the wall – and I really enjoy seeing these ancient objects. I spend some time in the gift shop, investigating the book offer, looking for something on local history of the roman times, it’s simply impossible find as an e-book online. I buy one and note two others for the future.

We’re out by 1 pm, thoroughly tired of wearing the mouth mask all the time, and we find a terrace on the market place, right by the statue of the Eburon leader Ambiorix. We have a warm snack and a coke while deciding what to do with the rest of the day. It should remain dry for a few hours yet so we pick a signposted city walk, it should bring us past the famous beguinage. We stop at the car for better rain gear and set off – in the reverse direction – to follow the colored cobble stones. Navigating the route in reverse is not so easy, as the metal cobble stones are not always easy to spot, so it becomes a challenge to find the next one. Fortunately, I also have the route on Wikiloc and can always double check.

The town does have some great ancient buildings and the beguinage is one of the oldest in Belgium, part of the Unesco World Heritage list. It was mostly untouched by the great fire in the 17th C, as the beguins paid off the French troops who lit it. Back at the cathedral at 3, again we’re a bit lost at what to do with the day.

We also admire a really cool construction to shade a large courtyard: a shaped canvas is stretched taut over a steel construction over a 40 by 40 m space, without support pillars to the ground. The vertical pillars are themselves hung by wires from the walls, so that the whole thing seems to hover between cobbles and clouds, a marvel of engineering.

While we’re debating, I hear a bird of prey shriek and I suddenly remember that the cathedral tower has a nest of peregrine falcons, that come and breed here every year. And indeed, we soon see one of them circling the tower, calling out loudly. I wonder if they have an impact on the pigeon population.. We have a look at the two webcams, one inside the nest and one just outside, and can see one inside, it looks like one of the three chicks born in April. This goes to show that I should always take the big camera and lenses, you don’t see peregrine falcons every day – unless of course you live in Tongeren.

Anyhow, we’re kind of fed up with town and people and masks and we decide to escape. Google gives us a list of attractions nearby and I pick an observation tower nearby, but we are thwarted by constructions works and must give up the plan. By this time I’m tired, achy and a bit grumpy so we decide to head back to the hotel for paracetamol and a lie down. The weather predicts rain later this evening and as the hotel won’t open the terrace, we have room service. Less cozy than the terrace, but at least we’re warm!

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